PHL 204-07

Can it be morally permissible to do something horrible in order to prevent something even worse from happening?

The Utilitarian Perspective:

  • The answer is a qualified “yes”
  • the reasoning: if you object to the torture on the basis of the pain it causes, then it seems that you ought to torture in order to minimize pain
  • Nagel’s position – the structure of his view:

  • general goal maximize value, minimize evil/non-value
  • but there are absolute restrictions or prohibitions against performing certain types of acts
  • certain things are wrong no matter what
  • Nagel’s task is to explain & justirfy these restrictions
  • The View from Nowhere (nowhere = objective view of things)
  • The View from Now Here (subjective view of things)
  • Utilitarian view relies on impersonal justifications
    Absolutist view relies on interpersonal justification

  • to determine whether there is an absolutist restriction, ask can I justify what I am about to do to the people I am about to do it to? If you can justify the action to the person, then there is no absolute prohibition, but if you cannot, then there is an absolute prohibition.
  • Problem: what does Nagel mean by “justifying to the person?”

  • If he means that you must be able to justify to an actual person with all of their irrationality, then this is pretty clearly mistaken
  • he must mean something different
  • maybe he means something like “you must be able to justify if to a perfectly rational being”
  • “perfectly rational being” — hard to define
  • Nagel on true moral dilemmas

  • TMD = a case in which you are faced with 2 or more options, all of which are morally wrong
  • Nagel claims that such cases can and do exist
  • in these cases, pick the lesser of two evils, but your action is still wrong
  • Advertisements
Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.